A warning about abandoned campfires

Aug 30, 2018, 7:44 AM

U.S. Forest Service Land, Utah — Fire officials have expressed concern about the rising number of abandoned campfires in the state and with possible camper leaving for Labor Day weekend, they want to make sure everyone knows how to snuff the flames.

Abandoned campfires are becoming a bigger problem each and every summer in the state. This is putting forests and even homes at risk.

This week a firefighter showed KSL Newsradio how to prepare before a campfire, and then how to properly extinguish it.

When Ryan Love builds a campfire, he looks first for a steel drum or designated campfire ring, with no vegetation around or low-hanging branches. But trees nearby will block any wind. He says never to build a fire in red flag conditions.

When there isn’t a steel drum, building a ring of stones works. But first, he uses the shovel he brought to dig down to bare mineral earth.

Love always has a shovel or hoe with him and a bucket of water. He works for Unified Fire Authority, and on this day he was up one of Utah’s many canyons. It felt cooler, but that didn’t mean the fire danger is over.

“The relative humidity is still quite low, meaning it is still dry,” said Love.

Soon the campfire was crackling. But Love says don’t build it too big. Cities restrict the size and there’s risk of fallout or the wind picking up. He says to use the trees as a wind buffer, and don’t build a fire in red flag conditions.

Out west, there are more dry flashy fuels. They’ve had problems with abandoned campfires there, but also on forest land. This week the Wasatch Cache Uintah National Forest tweeted a picture of one of many abandoned campfires that they have found left behind.

WCUNF Fire Prevention Officer Reid Shelley says even a fire ring is not safe to assume is fine.

“What’s in them is still hot, and all you need is a good breeze and a few sparks and it can take off. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave,” he said.

“If you feel comfortable touching it, it’s ok to leave,” agreed Love.

If you can, stay with it until it burns to ash. Then stir it, and check if it’s cool. That could take hours, so you could use that bucket you brought, and put water on it. Then stir it up.

“If you put water on hot stuff, it just bounces up. You need to stir it up,” said Shelley.

You could use ice from your camping cooler, and shovel dirt on top. Douse it again if you need to, then stir again.

“Mix this and stir this again to make sure it’s cool,” says Love, as he puts his hand right on the logs to check if they are cool, and feels satisfied it is ok now.

They say it’s just not worth taking a chance to walk away too soon.

So far in 2018, Utah has had about one-thousand fires. Utah fire officials say about half of those have been human-caused. And 11 percent of those, came from campfires. The West Valley Fire in southern Utah in June was from an abandoned campfire. You can see the full breakdown of these numbers here.

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A warning about abandoned campfires